Behind the Bar Stick People

Which One of These Bartenders Is World Class?

A lot of competitions attract top bartending talent, but the USBG World Class, sponsored by Diageo, tests them in the most comprehensive way. Bartenders are put under the microscope, with expert judges looking for professionals with all the tools.

Making a beautiful cocktail isn’t enough. Having an encyclopedic knowledge of spirits won’t cut it. You need to put that skill and knowledge to use while displaying the demeanor of a true hospitality professional.

Fifteen bartenders who met that lofty challenge are traveling to San Diego for the finals. It’s happening from June 12 to 14. Only one bartender will advance to the global finals in Mexico City, but everyone who has made it to San Diego deserves to be celebrated.

All three winners of the Northeast regional hail from New York City. Harrison Ginsburg (The Dead Rabbit and BlackTail), A-K Hada (PDT) and Chris Cardone (I Sodi) will be traveling cross-country and looking to make a splash in San Diego.

The heated Midwest regional produced a trio with a little more geographic diversity. Chicago will be well-represented with Egor Polonskiy of Untitled Supper Club, while the other two bartenders will be arriving from smaller markets. Giancarlo Aversa works at The Last Word in Ann Arbor, Mich., and Nicholas Pascuzzi tends bar at the Vikre Distillery Cocktail Room in Duluth, Minn. Both are big reminders that the best talent isn’t always in the biggest cities.

A formidable group of bartenders are traveling from the South to Southern California. Joshua Hiller (DoveCote Brasserie, Orlando), Jonathan Howard (Skull’s Rainbow Room, Nashville) and Nic Wallace (The River Bar, Sea Island, Ga.) all have a serious chance of mixing their way to Mexico City.

Alexis Mejaris, usually found behind the bar at Frank in Austin, is the only bartender to reach the finals from the Lone Star State. Two standout Colorado bartenders also emerged from the Southwest regionals: Allison Widdecombe Buchanan (Williams & Graham, Denver) and Austin Carson (Mizuna, Denver.)

Rounding out the group of finalists are the winners of the Western regional. San Diego may be located in this region, but they don’t need any hometown advantage to be a threat to win. Yael Vengroff (The Spare Room, Los Angeles) and Cassandra Ericson (T.C. O’Leary’s, Portland, Ore.) have shown the skill, knowledge and poise to compete at the highest level. Justin Park, of Bar Leather Apron in Honolulu, also has all the tools.

It might be the most talented pool of bartenders to reach the finals in the USBG World Class history. That’s certainly saying something, which you’ll see if you watch highlights from last year’s competition in the video below.

Check back here after the finals to see which American bartender is truly World Class.